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SILVER SPRING – Snow days and weather delays may have wreaked havoc on high school varsity boys basketball schedule, but when Kennedy and Einstein clashed Feb. 22 to close out the regular season, the game originally scheduled for Feb. 5 took on a playoff atmosphere.
The Cavaliers, despite finishing the year with a 2-18 record and marking Kennedy’s first losing season since 2000, gave the more-experienced Einstein squad all it could handle for three quarters before they turned up the heat in the final period to come away with the 51-41 victory.
Einstein senior guard Camren Ashby was the driving force behind Einstein’s offensive barrage and comeback in the second half. Ashby’s hot hand generated a game-high 26 points; 10 of those points came in the third quarter.
“I had to turn up the intensity. I can’t let my team lose,” said Ashby. “They count on me and I count on them, so that bond helps us win.”
The Cavaliers entered the regular season’s finale with their own intensity, propelled by a raucous home crowd that had packed the bleachers with fans clad in all black, prepared for the “blackout” affair.
Even though Kennedy’s roster lists several underclassmen, the lack of experience didn’t seem to hinder the Cavaliers in the first three quarters. In fact, Kennedy led at the end of each period. Junior guard Abel Elias (14 points) delivered big plays when his team needed them the most, including a tremendous trey to open the second half.
However, the tides turned in Einstein’s favor in the fourth quarter, and suddenly, the Cavaliers couldn’t get a single bucket to drop. The Titans strung together a 16-2 scoring run; Kennedy’s two points came courtesy of senior Myles Lewis at the free-throw line.
The previously fast-paced game screeched to a halt as Ashby dribbled slowly down the court and held onto the ball, using up time on the shot clock and making sure Kennedy stayed on defense.
Einstein guard Ryan Niemczuk landed two three-pointers in the final period to further extend the Titans’ lead. Kennedy freshman Jovani Galarza registered his team’s only fourth-quarter bucket with 15 seconds left in the game.
Kennedy Head Coach Diallo Nelson said that with so many underclassmen on the team, the Cavaliers are in a rebuilding phase.
“Every game is very similar to this game; it’s always tight, nip and tuck the entire game. We have very little margin for error,” said Nelson. “Einstein has experienced seniors, and a lot of those guys have been playing on varsity for two or three years. It showed at the end of the game when they closed us out, and we were unable to hit shots.”
Despite Kennedy’s losing season, Nelson appeared optimistic about his team’s future and even the upcoming playoffs. As the sixth seed, the Cavaliers will travel to face the Churchill Bulldogs.
“You learn from it. You don’t get used to it, but you learn from it,” Nelson said. “We’re just going to go play. I’ll say this, when you’re 2-18 you’re not nervous, you just play and you hope shots go in.”
The Titans will probably be slated as the fifth seed and will face the Bethesda – Chevy Chase Barons. Ashby appeared motivated to enter the postseason.
“I want to try to win a couple of games in the playoffs and make a splash, but most of all I just love having fun with my friends,” he said. “We’ve been preparing (for B-CC) all week and getting ready for their zone and stuff. It’s just basketball at the end of the day.”